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With and Without Galton

Nikolai Krementsov

II. “Bourgeois” and “proletarian” eugenics

II. “Bourgeois” and “proletarian” eugenics

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“The principle of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest operates not only in the process of plant and animal evolution, but also in… the book market. Here too, only those books ‘survive’ — that is gain social recognition — which have proven strong and viable in their own struggle for existence.”
Mikhail Volotskoi, 1926

1After the death of its publisher Grigorii Blagosvetlov, Vasilii Florinskii’s Human Perfection and Degeneration completely disappeared from public view. Florinskii outlived his publisher by almost twenty years, but did not do anything to bring his treatise and its major ideas to the attention of his compatriots. Yet, perhaps contrary to its author’s wishes and expectations, the book was not irrevocably lost to the merciless currents of time. Less than a quarter of a century after Florinskii’s death, his treatise was discovered, actively advertised, and in 1926 reissued in a new, slightly abridged edition. This time its publication did not go unnoticed. In fact, the book became subject of heated public debates over the possibility and necessity of creating a “proletarian” eugenics, radically different from the “bourgeois” eugenics developed by Francis Galton and his numerous followers. But, just a few years later, references to Florinskii’s treatise vanished. It seemed that the book and its author would slip into oblivion a second time. Some seventy years later, however, in 1995, the publishing house of the very university he had built in Tomsk more than a century earlier issued a new edition of Florinskii’s treatise. Finally, in 2012, yet another edition of the book came out.

2In the next four chapters I examine the reasons for, contexts of, and reactions to the repeated appearance and disappearance of Florinskii’s treatise, documenting a close intertwining of the fates of Galton’s and Florinskii’s concepts in Bolshevik, Soviet, and post-Soviet Russia, and considering the implications of the particular historical trajectory of eugenics in Russia for our understanding of the local and global histories of the amalgam of ideas, values, concerns, and actions fused into Galton’s eugenics and Florinskii’s eugamics.


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